Sam Houston State Basketball: A Step Back This Season?

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Sam Houston State Basketball: A Step Back This Season?
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Gilberto Clavell battling with Demarcus Cousins

At first glance, it makes perfect sense that the Sam Houston State Bearkats would take a step back this season. After all, they won the conference regular season championship, the conference tournament, and put the fear of God in the hearts of the Baylor Bears in the NCAA Tournament. That would be tough to duplicate even with a full arsenal of weapons.

Factor in the loss of the starting backcourt in All-Southland Conference point guard Ashton Mitchell and volume-scoring shooting guard Corey Allmond, and the Bearkats really had an uphill battle on their hands. This is to say nothing of the loss of longtime head coach Bob Marlin, who left Huntsville to be the next head coach of the University of Louisiana, Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns.

The numbers just don’t lie. When you also factor in the loss of post players Preston Brown, Marco Cooper, and the seldom-used Arthur Zulu, the Bearkats will be missing 40 points per game and 13.2 rebounds per game. Mitchell, Allmond, and Brown played in every single game for SHSU and were three of the top five Bearkats in minutes played per game.

Beyond the numbers, the Bearkats have to worry about team chemistry. Last year’s team had a perfect balance. Mitchell played the role of the steady hand at point guard. His four years of experience paid big dividends. He knew when to score and when to defer, and there were times last season when you just knew that there was no way Ashton Mitchell was going to let his team lose.

Ashton also knew how to handle his teammates. All-Conference big man Gilberto Clavell is as fiery as they come. As such, opposing teams always took the opportunity to get him fired up as to bait him into a technical. Who was always there to calm the big guy to keep him in the game? Ashton Mitchell.

When young players like Drae Murray and Lance Pevehouse couldn’t get a shot to fall or were struggling defensively, who was the first guy to pick them up? You guessed it, Ashton Mitchell.

Allmond was the guy that got his teammates and the fans on their feet. His long-range shots followed by throwing three fingers in the air in celebration was often just what the doctor ordered to get energy back in the building when the offense became stagnant. Allmond had no conscience when it came to shot selection, but it was this type of reckless abandon that endeared him to fans. The bigger the moment, the more Corey wanted the ball in his hands.

Yes, his propensity for chucking bombs did lead to some forced shots and bad offensive possessions, but it was all worth it when Allmond was on his game. The Bearkats may be able to find someone who can shoot as well as Corey Allmond, but I’m not sure they will ever find someone who has a sense of showmanship like Corey Allmond.

Losing these players, the Bearkats have a lot to overcome. But they still are well-equipped to make a run at the conference championship again this season.

The roster isn’t exactly bare. They are returning last season’s Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year Gilberto Clavell, who led the team with 17.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. He also led the team with 207 free throw attempts. That’s 90 more than the next highest player. He shot 72.9 percent from the charity stripe, nothing to be ashamed of for a 6’6” post player.

Clavell also gave the team something they had never really had under Coach Marlin, an inside threat to go along with the Bearkats' bombs-away three-point shooting style. When the outside shots weren’t falling, you could also dump the ball into Gilberto and let him do work. Being a senior leader now, I’d look for Gilberto to take another step forward and turn the Bearkats into more of an inside-outside offense.

Gilberto will share the role of team captain this season with senior guard/forward hybrid Josten Crow. Crow stands only 6’4”, but plays like he stands much taller. He can guard four positions effectively, and he never gets out-hustled on the boards.

As a do-everything player last season, he had averages of 8 points, 6 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. He took such good care of the ball that he finished second in the nation with a 3.3 assist-to-turnover ratio. Just as icing on the cake, he finished second on the team with 55 steals, only one steal behind the team leader, Ashton Mitchell.

Still, the success of this team will largely hinge on the question of who from the backcourt is going to put the ball in the hoop. The Bearkats, and specifically new head coach Jason Hooten, believe they have the answers in a couple of guys that are ready to move into larger roles.

Veteran backcourt members Lance Pevehouse and Drae Murray will now be looked at as leaders. Not only can they give what Allmond and Mitchell gave, but they each do something that their predecessors did not.

Murray is a lightning-quick point guard that can run circles around nearly any opposing point guard he plays. Drae also has a knack for being instant offense that he wasn’t really able to show as a reserve. With him likely getting starting minutes, I’d look for him to find his own show more often than in the past.

Coach Marlin loved to use a lineup that included both Murray and Ashton Mitchell. If the Bearkats were working in the halfcourt offense, Mitchell would be used to bring the ball up. If the Bearkats wanted to get out and run, Murray was their man. If the Bearkats can bring along a newcomer like freshman Byron Randle or junior transfer Marcus Williams at the point, they can duplicate the success they saw from the rotation last season.

The role of three-point bomber/starting shooting guard will fall to junior Lance Pevehouse. Last season Pevehouse hit 39 three-point shots, good for third on the team. He did that when he was averaging just over 20 minutes a game. With his minutes likely to increase to around 30 and with a larger role in the offense, those made shots are likely to end up somewhere around 80 three pointers made.

His averages compare very favorably to those of Corey Allmond. His shooting percentage from three point distance was 35.1 percent compared to Allmond’s 37.4 percent. With an opportunity to better get into the flow of a game as a starter, I’d like to believe that Pevehouse can make up that difference. In the Bob Marlin (and now Jason Hooten) offense, the three-point shots for the shooting guard are predicated on the player coming off screens effectively and quickly.

No one does a better job of that than Pevehouse. Lance never lets himself get out-hustled and won’t allow himself to get beaten to his spot on the court. As a part of his aforementioned aggressive style, Pevehouse will give the Bearkats rebounds from the guard position like Corey Allmond never did. Last season he averaged 3.9 rebounds per game, the most of any guard.

Just for the sake of playing devil’s advocate, let’s say that Murray’s production doesn’t increase proportionately to his increase in minutes and Pevehouse can’t fill it up like Corey Allmond could. The onus would seem to fall on the broad shoulders of Gilberto Clavell. Last season, that might have been too much, but this season, he has more help. The team returns three post players that were on the roster last season.

The first, and probably most important, is Antuan Bootle. The 6’7” junior from the Bahamas has the size and strength to take over any game in the post. Conditioning has always been the question with Antuan. This season he has reportedly come into training camp 20 pounds lighter and with more lean muscle.

As it was last season, he had a rebounds per minute average that extrapolated to 15 rebounds over a full game. He was also fourth on the team in blocked shots, even though he missed eight games completely and only averaged 12.8 minutes per game.

The other post players are bigger question marks. Aaron Thompson is a 6’9” sophomore who has the size of a center, but the shooting touch of a guard. He has the skills to be a guy you can run the offense through, but he has to put on more weight to effectively work both on the perimeter and inside.

Trying to work in the post when you weigh 210 pounds is going to be tough sledding. Secondly, he seemed too reluctant to mix it up on the boards when he generally had a size advantage with his opponent. His per game average of 1.6 rebounds was next to last on the team and tied with Drae Murray, who is listed very generously as 5’9”. Defense was an issue last season too, as he looked unsure of where to be often times.

Kelly Lawson is a wild card on this team. He redshirted last season as a freshman and is now ready to make his debut. He worked hard on putting weight on and the work seems to have paid off. He is now up to 245 pounds on his 6’8” frame. The other rookie in the frontcourt will be junior transfer Marcus James, a lean, lanky player who at 6’7” projects as a guy who can guard multiple positions.

Making these pieces fit together will be the job of new head coach Jason Hooten. “New” probably isn’t the best way to describe him. He was an assistant under Bob Marlin for six years before being named head coach following Marlin’s defection. Hooten is the ideal coach to keep SHSU playing at a high level. He already has a relationship with the returning players and he will continue the teachings that made the Bearkats so successful under Coach Marlin.

For those keeping tally, the Bearkats are returning their leading scorer in Gilberto Clavell, a do-it-all guard/forward hybrid in Josten Crow, a lightning quick point guard with a nose for the basket in Drae Murray, a shooting guard that hits the three-pointer at roughly the same clip as Corey Allmond in Lance Pevehouse and depth in the frontcourt with guys like Marcus James, Antuan Bootle and Kelly Lawson. Not exactly a full rebuilding year if you ask me.

With as much turnover as the Bearkats have faced, there are going to be some uncertainties. With a Sam Houston State team coached by Bob Marlin’s protégé, there are also many things that are certain. The Bearkats will never be out-hustled, they will play tenacious defense and they will play better than their talent would lead you to think they could.

You know what, go ahead and write them off. They relish the role of the underdog. Just don’t be surprised if you look up six months from now and there are the SHSU Bearkats, bringing that much more madness to the month of March.

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